"Harry Potter" prequel "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" is off to a magical start at the box office, conjuring $8.75 million in Thursday preview receipts.

That number puts the flick, a spinoff set decades before the events of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," on track to land at the higher end of estimates for its opening weekend tally, with some prognosticators now predicting that it will earn north of $80 million by the end of Sunday. Studio Warner Bros. is keeping its projections conservative for now, putting the flick on pace to pull in about $70 million.

As industry analysts previously noted, "Beasts" isn't a "Potter" flick, and that unknowable quality makes it hard to judge how the film will perform. It's unlikely to reach the soaring box office heights of the "Potter" franchise (for comparison, the last film in the series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" earned $43.5 million in Thursday previews in 2011, ahead of a $169 million opening weekend), but its association with the successful series -- not to mention its pedigree, with "Potter" author J.K. Rowling penning the screenplay -- certainly doesn't hurt audience curiosity, either.

Moviegoers should get used to finding "Fantastic Beasts" on the big screen, since the franchise has now expanded from a three-film series to a five-film series. Whether or not those plans will change, however, no doubt hinges on the first flick's success this weekend, and in the weeks to come.

[via: TheWrap]